Princess Diana set fashion trends. Kate Middleton has gone full-on schoolmarm

These be the dog days of summer, though surprisingly newsy. But I’ve had a bellyful of murder, mayhem and muffing by the Blue Jays brass. Maybe you too.

So. A piece of pouffe about the Duchess of Cambridge, née Kate Middleton.

Once upon a time I was the Star’s royal correspondent. A fun beat in an era of newspaper lavishness, no expenses spared and, sure, you can rent a private jet to cover the Queen’s cross-Canada tour. What a roving reporter whirlwind, from Diana’s dance with John Travolta at the White House to Malice at the Palace in the late ’80s to the marriage of Kate and Prince William. (Best part was the verger who cartwheeled down the aisle after Westminster Abbey had emptied.)

I hated her wedding dress. Most arbiters of style were dazzled.

It may seem nasty to reduce a princess to fashion mannequin but, really, what are the lady royals for? Except breeding and promoting good causes. But nothing too cutting edge, as a post-divorce Diana campaigned against landmines.

Before Diana discovered glittery sheaths and smart suits and revenge dressing — recall her dramatic F-U cocktail number on the same night Charles revealed his infidelity in an ill-advised TV interview, thus seizing all the front page flash — she went through a long phase of girlish princess ball gowns, dirndl skirts, freakish couturier creations with Dynasty shoulders and Elvis collars, and weird Michael Jackson-style military ensembles.

Read more:

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But it can’t be denied that Diana set fashion trends as the most photographed and scrutinized woman on the planet.

Kate can’t hold a candle to her. Of course she’s probably not trying either. Still and all, carving out a wardrobe esthetic for herself as Queen-to-be — once we survive the Queen Consort Camilla interval — or so the fashion authorities assert.

Recently I was flicking through the Kensington Palace feed that drops into my Twitter account, featuring an array of Kate “work” outfits and official engagement photos.

When did she go full-on schoolmarm? When did she turn into a stick-insect? Whence the healthy physical specimen who sashayed down the catwalk for a university fashion show in a see-through thingy, exuding all the sass in the world?

And what was that limp jabot sprouting from her throat at the christening of Archie Mountbatten-Windsor?

OK, I get being careful not to out-glam the new mom, Duchess of Sussex Meghan, especially with the ankle-biting tabloids all gonzo about creating a rift between sisters-in-law. But turning into dull as dishwasher in sponge-pink? With a braided hat that could have come out of the 93-year-old Queen’s millinery collection? At least Queen Elizabeth II appreciates bold colours. (No criticism of Her Majesty allowed here.)


A Stella McCartney creation, that dour pleated dress, further evidence that McCartney is a really lousy designer and, you know, the Empress has no clothes.

Pussy-bows, as the Star’s fashion ‘n’ stuff freelance contributor Leanne Delap helpfully explained of the limp bolo around Kate’s neck in a recent dispatch. Kitten heels I know, pussy-bows not so much. But the consensus from the glossy front is that Kate’s rocking this spec, even daringly turning it around in another version, the purple Gucci blouse rendition.

There was a time when casual Kate favoured sporty looks and age-appropriate styles. Royalty must have gone to her fascinator-clamped head. The new-look duchess is apparently being bold, cutting her own swath — swatch — across the fashion thicket. Though, ugh, I fail to see what’s bold about resuscitating the unflattering midi and that retro hippie sack that made a regretful appearance at the Chelsea Flower Show.

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Thirty-seven is way too young for granny apparel and sledgehammer demure.

Princess Diana was a trendsetter as the most photographed and scrutinized woman on the planet, writes Rosie DiManno.

Kate has also single-handedly resurrected the Alice Band, the nerdy accessory that Hillary Clinton favoured back in the days when she was still passionately defending her husband against accusations of leg-overs with blond bimbos. A sad echo, headwear-wise, of Diana cheekily strapping an emerald choker around her forehead.

The duchess, by comparison, goes wild by swapping out her go-to nude Prada pumps for Jimmy Choo court shoes at Ascot. “For daytime!’’

The most chic woman I know, my “It Girl” friend Tracy Nesdoly, has little complimentary to say about either Kate or Meghan, the latter clearly having all kinds of smackdown problems fitting into royal protocol and garnering snooty courtier approval — a fussy cabal Diana called “The Men in Grey.”

“Kate Middle-of-the-Road, my Gawd. Well, both of them, committed to ‘dowdy’ for the rest of days. The Kate wedge shoe alone should be a permanent fashion crime.

“In truth, she is perfect. Anodyne. You might be bored but you won’t be offended. She takes far fewer chances than Diana, who straddled a fashion vs. proper royal line, where ‘edgy’ was wearing a precious necklace as a tiara, and bare shoulders the day your ex is giving some droney speech.”

Stiffy-necked, I’d say, in back-to-the-future decorum court dress.

Speaking of closets …

Oh for the snappy days of the Queen Mother, who was never as stuffy hidebound as portrayed, even in The Crown, Netflix’s wildly popular streaming series.

Here’s one of my favourite anecdotes.

One afternoon, at her London residence, very gay-friendly Clarence House, a thirsty Queen Mum grew impatient with two footmen bickering outside her sitting room. She called out: “When you told old queens have finished arguing, this old Queen wants her gin.”

Now that’s bitchin’ style.

Rosie DiManno is a columnist based in Toronto covering sports and current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno

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